Evergreen’s traditions bring the community together. It’s the things you can count on—the long-loved events, the people who show up for them, the memories created. And more than that, it’s the faces and organizations behind these traditions that are the pillars of the community.
Everyone in town knows the name Mount Evans Home Health Care & Hospice (Mount Evans), as well as their illustrious reputation for providing heartfelt, compassionate care and family support. Most everyone is likely familiar with the Fourth of July Freedom Run 5K, a family-friendly, dog-friendly annual fundraiser that brings the community together in support of providing high-quality, caring in-home health care to everyone who needs it in our mountain community.
“The Freedom Run is one of the largest fundraisers for Mount Evans,” explains Mount Evans Director of Resource Development Betsy Hays. “All event proceeds from our many sponsors and tickets sold will go to fund in-home health care across our mountain communities.”
One of Evergreen’s most beloved nonprofits, Mount Evans provides home health care for patients of all ages while simultaneously caring for the family members and loved ones. This holistic approach is an integral piece of Mount Evans’s community building, an ethos that carries into every service and event, including the Freedom Run every Fourth of July. Last year, in light of COVID, was the first time in 40 years that Mount Evans was unable to host the Freedom Run, and it was an absence felt among the community.
“The pandemic interrupted our streak last year, and we are ready to roll again,” says Mount Evans President and CEO Keri Jaeger. “The Freedom Run tradition has been our mountain community’s favorite 5K for 40 years. Children have grown up over the years participating in this holiday benefit and now are joining in with their kids!”
It’s tough to break a streak, but as the Mount Evans way is to navigate hardship with grace and hope, so will the Freedom Run’s return this year be a time to celebrate. As Mount Evans brings the community back together through this time-honored tradition, and after a year of disruption and uncertainty, sponsors and supporters of the Mount Evans’ mission have an even deeper loyalty to this year’s return celebration.
“‘We miss you—thanks for coming back!’ will be our chant this year,” says Priscilla O’Leary, a CNA retired from the Mount Evans family. She and her husband, Mike, are famous along the Freedom Run route. “Our home is about a mile into the race, and since the ’90s, we have been the watering hole for thousands of thirsty runners, walkers and families from all over the country!”
Though Priscilla and Mike are volunteers handing out water, she remarks mostly on how the race participants touch her every year. “Watching the throngs of devoted runners and walkers maneuvering our rolling Hiwan neighborhood is impressive. It can become quite emotional when wheelchair participants persevere, when year after year, families who were served by Mount Evans return to the race course with two and three new generations.”
As the community comes together around one mind, it’s easy to see how this sentiment crosses over, how staff, volunteers and caregivers pouring into the lives of families and patients feel encouraged by the ones they serve.
Priscilla says, “It’s very intimate to support a family while their loved one is actively dying. It’s humbling. The resiliency, composure and grace of our patients and their compassionate caregivers bless us all with inspiration.” Each Fourth of July, she sets out a chair with a message: We remember. You are not forgotten.
The cycle of a life is a delicate thing, something difficult to discuss. We imagine our place in the middle of the journey, putting off thought for our role in the end. But Priscilla compares the end to the beginning: “Much like a birth,” she says. There is beauty and there are lessons to be learned. For those willing to engage, this is a readily available wisdom, and it’s something that Erin Sudmalis takes to heart.
“I started running the Freedom Run in 2007,” she remembers. “I got sober in 2006 from all mind- and mood-altering substances. So, for me, in 2007, [the race] was a very momentous thing. It helped change my life because running became a part of my practice, my growth and sobriety. The Freedom Run is not just about the Fourth of July, but it’s my personal freedom. It’s very important to me.”
This freedom excited Erin in a number of ways. First, she says, it’s just fun! “I love how people dress up. I also like the dogs. I love that people can bring their dogs and everybody gets their dogs dressed up too.” And to the piper blowing the bagpipes along the route every year: that’s something Erin really appreciates.
Beyond the silliness and the good times—beyond the event even—there is excitement to be found. Erin, who owns the residential painting company Bear Paw Painters, has recently launched a nonprofit alongside her business called Paint a Purpose. Using the exposure her business gets, she promotes local charities and causes, collecting donations along the way. “It just so happens that our launch (nonprofit) is lining up with the Freedom Run,” Erin says. “My guys are wearing the shirts, and I’m trying to get donations. Every time a client provides a donation, I’ll match—up to $500.”
Erin says that COVID inspired her to look for more ways to help, but that Mount Evans has always held a special place in her heart. Recently, due to unusual circumstances, a friend of her family’s was facing end of life, and it was Mount Evans that they turned to. “It was so quick, how Mount Evans was able to step in and support his end of life. It was seamless. It was beautiful,” Erin says.
“And they were there for his entire family,” she adds, noting that the grief counseling is a service that makes Mount Evans special. “The humanness, the empathy, in that they’re able to show up for not only the clients and patients, but the family members and the community.” It’s a loving touch that makes Mount Evans integral to the traditional, community-mindedness that makes the mountain area an incredible place to live. “Mount Evans has been a pillar here for 40 years,” states Erin. “People know what Mount Evans is. It’s a constant. It creates stability. It’s a resource.”
From patients and families to participants and sponsors, the belief that Mount Evans makes a difference is echoed through the Freedom Run and its traditions. With its return this year, the community-at-large is expressing their gratitude for each other.
The Freedom Run, for Barb Zendig, title sponsor and longtime Mount Evans supporter, is an opportunity to have a relationship with an organization that changed her life. “They changed my life. They changed my children’s lives. They showed up when I didn’t even know I needed them and made everything more tolerable,” she says, adding that she wants to be a part of offering this peace to others in our mountain communities. “It’s a very wonderful thing. They give you all kinds of help before, during and also after. I feel like I owe them.”
Support Mount Evans and your community by joining the Freedom Run on the Fourth of July. The event is kid-friendly and dog-friendly with runners, walkers and people in costumes—it’s going to be a blast! Plus, there is a party at Nick’s Pro Fitness after the event that even non-runners can attend. More information and tickets are available at